At peace with different path
Former Rogers pitcher Melson changes careers after minor league stint.
Nate Melson is still the only person from Rogers to sign a professional baseball contract out of high school, but he’s left that part of his life in the rear-view mirror. And he has no regrets. The 6-foot-6 right-hander spurned the chance to pitch for Arkansas or LSU to sign with the Minnesota Twins after he was selected in the sixth round of the 1997 Major League Baseball FirstYear Player Draft. But after three-plus seasons in the minor leagues, he walked away from baseball and hasn’t looked back.
“It would have taken a level of passion for playing the game as a pitcher that did not exist within me to continue going in a direction that was counter to the
closure I sensed,” Melson said. “In short, the minor-league experience was for me; the progression through the system to the big leagues was not.”
Former Rogers High baseball coach Tom Woodruff recalled the all-state pitcher’s competitive spirit and devastating slider, a combination that made him tough for the opposition to handle.
“What made him such a joy, he was the ultimate team player,” Woodruff said “Nate was very soft spoken, but a leader by example and just a joy to be around. Sometimes those can be few and far between. But he sure loved to win and was a great competitor.”
Woodruff said Melson, who still ranks among the top three in Rogers history for most strikeouts (single-season and career), most wins (single-season and career), told him he got a quick baptism to the difference between high school and professional baseball.
“He told me ‘I used to think we had long practices’, but when he got to spring training they got up early and have a sandwich and some fruit and play ball all morning,” Woodruff
said. “Then have something else to eat and play all afternoon. That’s when he knew it was a business.”
That wasn’t Melson’s only issue. He lost almost 40 pounds in his first season of pro ball and that came with a drop in velocity.
“I was in a bad place physically at the end of that first season,” Melson said. “Losing 40 pounds in two and a half months, I felt like I’d transitioned to a cross country team.
There was a time on the radar gun, I was at 79 mph. That’s a big drop from 92. I knew I had to get in the weight room and put on the correct weight.”
After going 0-4 with a 5.63 ERA in 38 1/3 innings his first season, Melson enjoyed some success the next two seasons. He went 5-1 with 3.66 ERA as a starter in 1998, then 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA out of the bullpen in 1999.
But the 38-year-old, who now lives in Denver with his wife, Andee, and teaches exercise science at a charter school, said he still wasn’t the same pitcher that he was in high school.
“The slider never came back and I lost velocity,” Melson said. “I became more of a sinker ball pitcher. Mentally, I was surviving, at the same time there was just this sense that this wasn’t going to go as far as the big lights and big money.”
He had thoughts of quitting baseball, but the Twins released him in spring training in 2000. Melson got another chance to hook on with the Kansas City Royals. However, there was no doubt that his baseball days were over after about 30 days in Florida with the Royals, Melson said.
“I was praying there would be clarity on what to do,” Melson said. “I was wavering back and forth. This is every kid’s dream and I don’t want to throw that away. Then one night it became very clear to me one door was closing. I didn’t even sleep that night. I got up to the clubhouse when the doors opened.
“There was peace about going into that clubhouse and hanging up the glove. I told them my playing days were over and I haven’t looked back.”
He went on to finish college degree at Central Arkansas and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in pastoral counseling.
Melson just wants to share the story of his faith to possibly help others struggling with decisions in their life. But his message is to follow their faith.
“There’s so many expectations put on kids today,” Melson said. “Maybe they are expected to follow a cultural norm. It’s hard to go against the grain a little bit.”
Rogers High’s Nate Melson delivers a pitch against Springdale during his senior season in 1997. Melson was selected that summer by the Minnesota Twins in the sixth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Nate Melson with his wife, Andee Melson, at their home in Denver. Melson is a 1997 Rogers High graduate and played three seasons in the Minnesota Twins organization. He now teaches high school exercise science and officiates college basketball.